With the March Madness smoke settled, it’s about that time of year to start looking at how college stars are going to fit in the NBA. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing today. I will be talking about one of the highest rated college stars this year, Jalen Suggs.
The one-and-done freshman came off a fantastic season at Gonzaga, averaging 14.5 PPG, along with 5 REB and 4 AST. He’s entering the 2021 NBA draft and many are projecting him to go in the top-five or at least the lottery.
He’s an athletic, tall point guard who can get to the basket at-will. He has a plethora of moves that he can use to either get around or bull straight through the defense. His shooting isn’t the best, but his speed and strength alone gives him the potential to do some real damage in the league.
He’s consistently the fastest guy on the court and his motor is crazy high. Every play he lays it all on the line and he’s extremely animated whenever he makes a good play. It’s not hard to see the emotion or drive in his face when he’s on the court.
But, like every player, there aren’t good traits without the bad. One, I previously mentioned is his shooting. He shot just 33% from three in college, and with the line moving back, he’s going to put a lot of time into getting his shot right. He has a wide base when he shoots and uses a lot of legs in his shot so he already has a lot of potential there. It just comes down to hitting his shots and that ability is yet to be seen.
Next, if the National Championship game taught me anything, it’s Jalen Suggs’ inability to do anything off-ball. There were more than several offensive possessions down the floor where Suggs stood in the corner for the entire shot clock. Yes, this was probably because of some fatigue, or just sets they ran for his teammates. Gonzaga had multiple guys who could playmake and score, and obviously Suggs wasn’t going to score every single point for them, but when there’s no movement or attempts to free up other teammates or get open on a cut, that just shows a either a lack of stamina or lack of care.
The next weakness of his game is ineptitude to guard the pick and roll. Even though he’s a pretty versatile defensive player, with the ability to guard multiple positions, all too often during the college season, he could not effectively guard the pick and roll. When he went over the screens, he either got stuck chasing the defender from behind, or he would be over-aggressive and commit a foul. And when he went under the screen, he either couldn’t get a shot contest on the shooter, or try and switch onto the big man who could easily take advantage of him in the post.
Moral of the story, he needs to learn how to guard the pick and roll to be successful in the NBA. The main defense played in the NBA is man to man, and many offenses run pick and roll, so it’s not only important but essential to successfully guard it. In college, this weakness was blanketed by the zone defense that was sometimes run, but he won’t have that safety guarantee in the NBA. He’s a great one on one defender, but when it comes to team defense and help defense, that area of his game is much to be desired.
The final critique I have of his game is his emotions and mental toughness. Oftentimes this year after a huge play he would become very animated, similar to the likes of Russell Westbrook. As much as that shows his energy and heart in the game of basketball, it can also very easily escalate to an unnecessary attitude on the court. I know it sounds silly, but it’s true. How many times has Draymond Green or Russell Westbrook simply just shown emotion and got a technical foul for it? Way too many times. Whether those kinds of calls actually deserve to be a technical is a subjective topic, but the fact of the matter is that they are called techs.
My point is that Jalen Suggs’ emotion and passion towards the game can actually hurt him sometimes. For instance, Zaga was playing Oklahoma in a March Madness game this past tournament, and Suggs was fouled from behind on a fast break. The Oklahoma defender just slapped his hand going for the ball and gave Suggs a tiny push from behind. Suggs fell to the ground and he then shot up and immediately gunned for the defender and started jawing at him. If it were the NBA, he most certainly would’ve gotten a tech. Not only that, but there are fouls in the NBA on a nightly basis that are much harder than that. So when Suggs gets to the league he needs to either one, get tougher, or two, learn to keep his emotions in check because he could really be hurting his team if he gets into too many altercations on the court.
Finally, my NBA comparisons for Suggs. He’s only 19, so his potential is sky high. His ceiling, in my opinion, is a player like Russell Westbrook or prime Deron Williams. He 100% has the athleticism that Brodie has, and even has the poor shooting ability of him as well. He’s a fast, strong guard who can get to the cup whenever he wants. If he adds a consistent three point shot to his game, he can achieve the dynamic scoring ability of a player like prime Deron Williams. But, there’s always an in between boom and bust candidate, and the player I think he’s going to be most like is Malcolm Brogdon. They’re both pretty tall point guards who both have moves they can use to get to the spot they want to. They both are very solid playmakers who can draw defenses and find open teammates. And finally, they’re both solid defenders, with the exception of Suggs’ current pnr defense.
But then there’s also the potential of him becoming a bust. I give him the floor of Reggie Jackson. A solid guard who’s a do-it-all type of guy who is starter level or 6th man level. If he doesn’t pan out to be the great talent that everyone makes him out to be, he could very well end up being in the same situation as Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter: mediocre players on mediocre teams.
Either way, Jalen Suggs has been phenomenal to watch play, and it’s very exciting to see where he’s going to go next.